Regressive God

My parents inform me that I asked "why?" incessantly. Having been provided with an explanation, I would then ask, "Yes, but why?"

This "yes, but why?" question illustrates the principle of regress – for each explanation, we can seek a deeper, underlying explanation until we hit bottom.

"This means that any proposition whatsoever can be endlessly (infinitely) questioned, like a child who asks "why?" over and over again."
(I must have driven my poor parents nuts! It's scarcely a surprise that I should have been drawn to science because scientific method examines explanatory regression in the most satisfactory way.)

"Bottom" is that ultimate, necessary condition for which there is no logical explanation, but which is merely the situation of inexplicable existence. What the just-God theists deride as being "just-so". Necessary conditions describe the fundamental physical forces and constants that underlie the nature of our cosmos: "All we currently know from fundamental physics and cosmology remains consistent with a universe that evolved by purely natural processes." (Stenger)

The NY Times has an op-ed argument entitled Taking Science on Faith. The piece was written by astrobiologist and deistic Christian apologist Paul Davies, whose career seems to have involved progression through increasingly less prestigious universities. This may be linked to his having won the Templeton Prize in 1995. His piece illustrates the problem with fallacious argument from regress.

Davies starts out with a little quote mining and a fallacious tu quoque that is lamentably common in Christian apologetics:
"The problem with this neat separation into “non-overlapping magisteria,” as Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion, is that science has its own faith-based belief system."

First, the notion of "non-overlapping magisteria" has been rejected by philosophers of science who are no longer bending over backwards to avoid offending twitchy religious sensibilities. If you make the claim that "supernatural" agencies interact with the natural world – by creating the cosmos or interceding in health outcomes, for example – then your claims can be tested by the scientific method. Period. Goodbye NOMA.

Second, although scientists must, for the sake of time-saving efficiency, accept that much received scientific wisdom established by other scientists is valid, the use of the term "faith" is a fallacious equivocation. Knowledge, in general, could not move forward if we did not accept the expert authority of Newton's giants. Religious "Faith" requires that believers adhere to doctrinal tenets despite the complete lack of any empirical evidence for belief – this is the exact opposite of received scientific wisdom. Davies' employment of this term is either ignorant, illogical, or deliberately deceitful. Given that Davies is a trained scientist, one must assume the latter.

Davies continues to expound upon this basic, fallacious argument as a build-up to his fallacious argument from regress:

"Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from “that’s not a scientific question” to "nobody knows.” The favorite reply is, “There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.” The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational."
Notice that he says "anti-rational" and not irrational. He is relying upon the unquestioning Newtonian-based experience of the theistically duped amongst his readers. It is neither unreasonable, anti-rational, nor illogical, to accept that some things simply exist without (yet) scientific explanation. (In fact, our day to day experience is that things do exist without an obvious explanation. Theists, however, have been instructed to believe that everything has an ultimate supernatural explanation.) It maybe intellectually unsatisfying not to be able to answer "why?" at this level, but this lack is no good reason to toss a God of the Gaps into the regression.

Davies moves on, after more anthropic waffle, to the fallacious implication that explanations of the cosmos must either be a counterintuitive multiverse version or his deistic anthropic principal pseudoexplanation.

"There has to be a physical mechanism to make all those universes and bestow bylaws on them."
Has to be? In whose cosmos must there necessarily be a further physical mechanism that bestows basic physical "bylaws". Notice the "by" in "bylaws"! It attempts to reduce our basic physical laws to a subordinate position. Subordinate to what? Why to Davies' Regressive God, of course. This is conclusion implied by terminology – a car salesman's ploy.

Davies ends with one of the most illogical non sequiturs that I have ever seen: "But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus."

That sentence is so illogical and ridiculous, that I need not comment beyond pointing out that science is about finding explanations for phenomena and it is not part of the requirement of methodological, or even metaphysical, naturalism that science must provide an (impossible) explanation for necessary existence. Part of Davies' flawed argument is that scientists do not presume to provide an explanation for the fundamental cosmic laws – to do so would indeed be to make a leap of faith, and Davies complained that scientists do not do this. He's trying to have it both ways and he probably is not even aware of this philosophical tension in his argument.

I really do believe that deists and theists, even those as well-educated as Paul Davies, ultimately have been forced away from logic by their emotional need to protect inculcated delusional beliefs.

atheism, deism, theism, naturalism, science, Paul Davies, New York Times,

1 comment:

Travis Morgan said...

I really do believe that deists and theists, even those as well-educated as Paul Davies, ultimately have been forced away from logic by their emotional need to protect inculcated delusional beliefs.

Oh yes, even the well-educated want to live forever. Self-preservation is one of man's most basic instincts. Creationist want to believe that they have a spirit that can be preserved in heaven after their initial physical death.

I'm leaning that this desire for comfort that they have comes from another basic primal trait, selfishness.